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African Legal Traditions

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Comparative Law and Legal Traditions
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One fundamental question about African law relates to its place among the legal systems of the world. Although this expression has always been used as a popular descriptor encompassing all African legal systems, the question whether it exists per se has always been controversial among comparative law scholars. Consequently, the answers to this question have varied over time depending on legal, temporal and historical contexts.

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  1. 1.

    Sharkey (2013), pp. 153–154. For a critical evaluation of French colonial policy see Sir Harris (1912), p. 97.

  2. 2.

    Mann (2009), p. 336.

  3. 3.

    Grant (2006), p. 13. See Himonga and Nhapo (2014), pp. 9–13.

  4. 4.

    See Frederick (1922), pp. 192–213. And see Mann and Roberts (1991), p. 20.

  5. 5.

    Leman (2009), p. 109.

  6. 6.

    Ubink (2010), p. 96. On native assessors see, among others, s 48 Indian Evidence Act, 1872; s 19 Supreme Court Ordinance 1876 (Ghana); s 8 Swaziland High Court Proclamation 1938; and s 222 Criminal Procedure Act of Northern Rhodesia 1939.

  7. 7.

    See, among others, s 12(1) (a) Local Courts Act 1966, Act No. 20 of 1966 (Zambia).

  8. 8.

    Roberts (1979), Vanderlinden (1996), Eberhard and Vernicos (2006).

  9. 9.

    See the articles published in the Journal ofAfrican Law (1991) 35 (1/2) issue on “Recent Constitutional Developments in Africa”; consider also Richard (1997), p. 363.

  10. 10.

    See, among others, Kischel (2019), Ajani et al. (2018), Rambaud (2017), David et al. (2016); Sacco (2012), p. 313 et seq.; Gambaro and Sacco (2009), Bennett (2019), p. 652; Menski (2006), Ntampaka (2005). As for monographs see Vanderinden (1983), Sacco (2006).

  11. 11.

    See Bamodu (1994), p. 127; Zimmermann and Visser (1996), pp. 7–8. On African mixed jurisdictions see Palmer (2012), p. 625; du Plessis (2019), p. 474.

  12. 12.

    Glenn (2014), p. 60. However, Zweigert and Kötz (1996) and Valcke (2018) completely omit references to African law.

  13. 13.

    See M’Baye (1976), p. 138; Allott (1968), p. 131 et seq.; Sacco (2012), p. 313 ss.; Fombad (2013), p. 48. On such inaccuracy see Vanderlinden (2006), p. 1187.

  14. 14.

    Allott (1967), p. 55; Mar (1960), p. 447; Eisenstadt (1965), p. 453.

  15. 15.

    Ranger (1983), pp. 211, 212.

  16. 16.

    Prinsloo (1987), p. 411. For codification, see, among others, the Civil Code of Ethiopia (1960) and the 1964 Land Tenure Law (Loi sur le Domain National) (Senegal).

  17. 17.

    Sippel (1998), p. 378.

  18. 18.

    Merryman (1977), p. 457.

  19. 19.

    See Mancuso (2007), p. 165; Shumba (2015), p. 127.

  20. 20.

    Oba (2010), p. 79.

  21. 21.

    See Klerman and Mahoney (2007), p. 278; Siems (2016), p. 579; Grosswald Curran (2009), p. 863; Oto-Peralía and Romero-Ávila (2017), p. 121.

  22. 22.

    Bennett (2011), p. 710.

  23. 23.

    See, among others, Seidman (1979), p. 17; Sacco (2012), p. 314; Oba (2010), p. 58.

  24. 24.

    See Art 194 of OHADA Uniform Act on Contract Law and Arts 238–239 of OHADA Uniform Act on General Commercial Law.

  25. 25.

    “Screened by a tropical forest from the north and facing the Gulf of Guinea, the region remained isolated from external influences […] creating specific systems of state law”: Sinitsina (1994), p. 264.

  26. 26.

    Elias (1955), pp. 228–238; Sacco (2012), p. 315.

  27. 27.

    The role of individuals depends on their position in the group to which they belong: Rambaud (2017), p. 258; David et al. (2016), p. 483.

  28. 28.

    Woodman (2010), p. 9.

  29. 29.

    Joireman (2010), p. 298.

  30. 30.

    ss 255(1) and 167(1) of the 1992 Constitution (Ghana); Loi no 034-2009/AN du 16 juin 2009 portant régime foncier rural (Burkina Faso); URT, Land Act (No. 4), sec. 7 and URT, Village Land Act (No. 5), sec. 8(1), 12(1) (Tanzania). For more on the three land classes in Tanzania (‘General Land’, ‘Reserved Land’ and ‘Village Land’) see Martina Locher (2016), pp. 395–396. On the supernatural see Hamer (1998), p. 311.

  31. 31.

    Blanc-Jouvan (1964), p. 7; Molte (1967), p. 123.

  32. 32.

    Ndulo (2011), p. 89.

  33. 33.

    See s 34 Marriage Act 1963 (Zambia); s 1(2) Marriages Act 1964 (Eswatini). For example, Nigeria legislation does not set any age for such solemnisation: see the Marriage Act 1990 (Nigeria). Namibia, South Africa, Togo, Rwanda and Niger and few other coutries explitictly recognise customary marriages. See, among others, s 4(3)(b) Constitution of Namibia; Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 1998 (Act No. 120 of 1998) (South Africa).

  34. 34.

    See, respectively, Dagbanja (2015), p. 412; Mancuso (2007), p. 174.

  35. 35.

    Fletcher (1998), p. 684. See also Muir Watt (2012), p. 270.

  36. 36.

    Hulme (1995), p. 120.

  37. 37.

    Rambaud (2017), pp. 257–258; David et al. (2016), p. 483 et seq.; Sacco (2009), Vanderlinden (2000), p. 279.

  38. 38.

    On Islamic law as variety of customary law see Anderson (1962), p. 617.

  39. 39.

    See De Grondwet 1854 (Orange Free State); Royal Charter of Natal 1856 (Natal); De Grondwet Der Zuid-afrikaansche Republiek, alson known as The Thirty-Three Articles (Drie en Dertig Artikelen) of 1844–1849 (Transvaal). On Cape colonial law as the common law of Soutern African protectorates territories see: Order in Council 3 November 1871 and s 2 General Law Proclamation 2B of 1884 (Basutoland-Lesotho); Order in Council 9 May 1891, Proclamation 10 June 1891 and General Law Proclamation 1909 (Bechuanaland-Botswana); Order in Council 20 October 1898 (Southern Rhodesia-Zimbabwe); General Administration Act No. 11 of 1905 and General Law and Administration Proclamation No. 4 of 1907 (Swaziland-Eswatini); Proclamation No 21 of 1919 which granted the Roman-Dutch law “as existing and applied in the Province of the Cape of Good Hope” to South-West Africa-Namibia.

  40. 40.

    See, among others, Juma (2011), p. 92.

  41. 41.

    The first code was promulgated by Queen Ranavalona in 1828; Queen Radama II enacted a second code in 1862. Queen Rasoherina promulgated two codes in 1863; Queen Ranavalona II issued a Malagasy-law criminal code in 1869. Two more codes where enacted in 1868 and 1881.

  42. 42.

    See, inter alia, Art. 162 of the 2018 Chad Constitution; Art. 211 of the 1996 South African Constitution; Art. 11(3) 1992 Ghana Constitution (customary law comprises “rules of law which by custom are applicable to particular communities in Ghana”); s 68 Courts (Amendment) Act 1967 (Malawi) (conflict of law rule for determining the applicable customary); s 2(b) Customary Law and Local Courts Act 1990 (Zimbabwe) (“customary law” means the customary law of the people of Zimbabwe, or of any section or community of such people”); s 258(1) Evidence Act 2011 (Nigeria) (“Custom” is a rule which, in a particular district, has, from long usage, obtained the force of law”). On the inherent transnational character of customary law see Mancuso (2007), p. 176.

  43. 43.

    On the integration of customary courts into the received legal system see Fombad (2013), p. 113. See also Common Law and Customary Laws Act 1969 (Botswana). For Swaziland see Whelpton (2005), p. 348. On indigenous standards see Oba (2010), pp. 76–78.

  44. 44.

    Jordaan (2017), p. 402. And see Himonga et al. (2013), p. 369; Oko Elechi et al. (2010), p. 73; Louw (2006), p. 161.

  45. 45.

    See van der Waal (2004), p. 113: “Benefits […] include the fact that the customary courts are more open (‘like democracy’) because all adults can participate in them, they are public and they keep traditions alive. A lawyer is not needed since the system is not professionally driven and the fines are not high. The emphasis is on social outcomes rather than on individualizing outcomes.”

  46. 46.

    See Himonga and Nhapo (2014), pp. 253–254.


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Mousourakis, G. (2019). African Legal Traditions. In: Comparative Law and Legal Traditions. Springer, Cham.

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